Best espresso gear on a student's budget? - Page 3

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
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ogatasan

#21: Post by ogatasan »

wildlyesoteric wrote:well it is a bit of a phallic symbol ;)
hmm, you think so? i always thought of HER being an old glamorous lady...
Chris H
LMWDP #148

Zootalaws

#22: Post by Zootalaws »

Like a lot of kitchen items, there is a lot of one-upmanship and snobbery about coffee machines.

Most italian families have been doing very well on a simple stove-top espresso boiler that you can pick up for a few quid - not saying it is the perfect machine (and avoid the Ikea/chinese varieties - invest £25-45 in a Valira or similar)

If you must have a machine, the Gaggia Baby/Classic range can be had fairly cheaply if you eBay about... I have bought 3 machines - all for under £60.

My first was an awful Gaggia Evolution - just don't do it. Generally, stay away from their ABS plastic-housed machines. They might advertise them as having the same internals, but in my experience they are just crap.

That was replaced with a Classic for £50 with "problems" - simply it hadn't ever seen a service. A service kit from Italy for £11 and a couple of descales and it was working like new. I was so impressed that I picked up a 'spares or repair' identical machine for £25 for parts... which, apart from the bent and buckled exterior is now working as new.

I would like to try another Gaggia but quite honestly, IMO I get about as good a cup of coffee as I want from my current machine.

Before I get slagged of as a philistine, I am a chef so have a fairly developed palate and as a frequent traveller to France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands am aware of what constitutes a 'quality' cup of coffee - I just think that too much is made of the equipment.

As with all 'foods' - the ingredients are the key. Get good quality beans and a decent grinder and you are 90% of the way there.

Keep the equipment you have in good condition - be it stovetop, entry level or a £2000 masterpiece - and that is the rest of the story.

One of the best cups of coffee I have ever had was from in-house roasted coffee in a tiny back street in Madrid on an ancient and unloved La Pavoni hand pump.

While I'm sure that some of these contributors with their bloated disposable incomes can tell the difference between a £50 machine and a £2000 machine, the rest of us mere mortals can't.

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peacecup

#23: Post by peacecup »

I agree that a VERY good espresso experience can be had a somewhat less money than the average recommendation on this site. If you're interested in the "hand-made" espresso journey have a look at some of my other posts.

PC
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

wildbwilson

#24: Post by wildbwilson »

Mike,
while you make some good points about simple equipment delivering a memorable experience, the dig about bloated incomes diminishes the value of your commentary(imho). The oft quoted adage on this board 'buy the best equipment you can afford' is uttered for good reason. If I can afford more than you or others that is irrelevant to the discussion in general. A chef friend of mine has a collection of handmade knives, they start at $1000 a pop, can he slice an onion thinner and faster than me? I don't give a whizz. All I know is that it brings a whole lot of satisfaction to his daily pursuit as my coffee related purchases do for me.
-Ian

zin1953

#25: Post by zin1953 »

There is no doubt in my mind that SOME equipment one finds in the "common" home kitchen is unnecessary. However . . .
Zootalaws wrote:Most italian families have been doing very well on a simple stove-top espresso boiler that you can pick up for a few quid . . .
True, but it never tastes like espresso. At least not to my palate. (Though not a chef, I have spent 35+ years in the wine-and-restaurant trade.)
Zootalaws wrote:Before I get slagged of as a philistine, I am a chef so have a fairly developed palate and as a frequent traveller to France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands am aware of what constitutes a 'quality' cup of coffee - I just think that too much is made of the equipment.
How many of your knives are you willing to part with? Please send the extras to Jason Lewis . . . :wink:
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

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Stuggi

#26: Post by Stuggi »

ogatasan wrote:Actually surprised that noone spoke in the favor of a lever machine here...

A La Pavoni Europiccola would be my choice for the following reasons:

+ capable of delivering great espressi (just follow a few basic rules)
+ plenty of choice on ebay for around 150$
+ quick
+ quiet
+ preinfusion and extraction profiling
+ chic - great design, everything is an expression of its function, its a naked beauty ;)
+ maintenance: everything is replaceable, all you probably need is a few new gaskets once every while
+ will follow you wherever you go, is very compact
+ keeps value (but you wont sell it again)
+ that for later: yes you will be able to steam, froth and do latte art!

+ less reasonably it will impress the opposite sex and thus may affect your love life


add 20 bucks for a mocca-handgrinder (Pede, Peugot or Zassenhaus) and find a source for freshly roasted beans


I would reconsider my recommendation:
- if you intend to make more than 3 coffee drinks at a time
- if you want to please everyone with it at your weekly parties
- if your drinking habits are affected by the wide-spread supersize-syndrome
Yeah, the Europiccola is great, looks very nice in the kitchen too (very good for attracting persons of the opposite sex if you catch my drift.) The only problem is that you really need to pair it with a nice grinder to get anywhere, but there are some really nice low volume grinders, the Ascaso i-mini that I have is really great in that aspect, and it has conical burrs too. :)
Sebastian "Stuggi" Storholm
LMWDP #136

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howard seth

#27: Post by howard seth »

Zootalaws wrote:While I'm sure that some of these contributors with their bloated disposable incomes can tell the difference between a £50 machine and a £2000 machine, the rest of us mere mortals can't.
Huh?

Perhaps I am immortal. :P

Howard
Howard Seth Miller

davarino

#28: Post by davarino »

Equipment is important. However, to cheap neo-philistines such as I, technique and characteristics (note that I did not say "quality") of ingredients are very important parts of the system of making a good cuppa.

Your most important consideration is the coffee grounds. If you start with cowpies, the best you can get is great cowpie coffee. Use something reasonable tasting... even if it's Kroger's Italian Roast (but La Llave is so much better for me). Remember, you are the judge. If you like it, it's good. (If you develop a more refined taste along way, so much the better: so long as you are willing to put up with the pain of positively hating things that would never have bothered you five years ago. Most people with refined tastes seem to develop a dislike for life outside their accustomed good taste. Neo-philistines don't.)

If you have the money for a grinder, you can get acceptable results even from one of those abominable blade grinders... if you grind intelligently. That essentially means, "Don't grind too little or too much at a time." You'll have to waste some precious beans to determine what the real capacity of your blade grinder is, and what the optimal grinding time is. (A coffee lab-book is not a bad idea... high school physics had valuable lessons in technique of investigation.) And don't forget that temperature of the beans and humidity of the room can be crucial to a good grind. You are looking first for as much uniformity as you can get (technique), then go for size of grind. (Going at it the other way will be many more headaches.) A sifting screen is not a bad idea, but it seems a bit akkurat, I would just pluck out the chunkies and use them for the next grind.

Myself, I use an old Trösser box grinder and I'm happy. But I am a philistine. (I also use La Llave out of the can and can get a good foam ["crema" for those of you who can't read English].)

If you want a simply made good coffee, a French press is a fine way to do it. You won't get an espresso, or Turko-Arabic, but it'll be good with any decent technique. And it doesn't take a genius to do it: crack up your beans to a coarse ground (warm beans stored in a humid kitchen works best for me), warm up your French press, put in your grounds... the drill is known.

However, it appears to me that most people speaking of equipment questions are really searching for the perfect espresso. (At this point, it would be appropriate to ring the little bell that the priest rings at mass.)

Again your quest is attainable through boldness and wisdom rather than through the purchase of a better Excalibur or Rocinante.

Buy a bag of beans that you like and that you can get in the future. (Repeatability is always important.) Or buy a can of La Llave.

Get whatever espresso maker you can get your hands on: $40 can get you something decent at Walmart, the simpler the better. (I have used a Black & Decker espresso machine. Difficult, but a good cuppa when done right.) Or pretend you're an Italian ditchdigger who likes good coffee: get a cheap stovetopper.

Then make one cup. ONE cup. Perfect it by modifying your technique. There are so many options to change the flavor, body, and aroma of that one cup: grind, room temperature, steam bleed or not, preheat machine or not, water source, tamp or not or how much (a spice bottle can be an adequate tamper for neo-philistines), water starting temperature, temperature of receiving vessel, duration of pull (hey, you don't have to squeeze out every drop of coffee from the grounds), discarding part of the pull, the list goes on and on.

After you get what you want, which will possibly take a few sessions unless you are a coffee sponge-zombie, try the same technique to pull a double. Surprise! With a cheap machine, it will most likely be a whole new round of experimentation. Same with a triple or a quad.

I would say that the greatest obstacle that cheap espresso machines have is their limitation on how many cups they can pull before they run out of steam... a good espresso from a cheap machine will complete itself in somewhere between 15 and 25 seconds from the time the first drop comes from the filter holder. Past that point, your espresso will be bitterer and bitterer. (Of course, some prefer that. Go figger.)

So, the challenge in making a multi-tasse pull is to get that hot water through the grounds at a higher speed than it would go for a single-tasse. (Tamping can be good for the single demi-tasse: it slows the flow.) Two easy helps for this are to use a coarser grind and to build up the pressure before the pull (by leaving the reservoir cap slightly open until steam comes out of the reservoir [to bleed air from the system: water vapor expands more evenly than air], then closing the cap, turning the machine off for about 5 seconds to seal off the reservoir and build pressure). Even so, there are limits... you probably will never be able to pull a good 8 ounce espresso with a little machine.

This is my two cents worth. (For two cents you get a lot more mud than diamonds.) Good luck. And cultivate the habit of happiness.

zin1953

#29: Post by zin1953 »

Whoa, this is the thread that will not die . . .
davarino wrote:Equipment is important. However, to cheap neo-philistines such as I, technique and characteristics (note that I did not say "quality") of ingredients are very important parts of the system of making a good cuppa.
No one has ever said/maintained that the equipment is important exclusively. Indeed, the "Four M's" of espresso state quite the contrary!
The Four M's of Espresso:
  • Macchina is the espresso machine;
  • Macinazione is the correct grinding of a coffee blend;
  • Miscela is the coffee blend itself;
  • and Mano is the skilled hand of the barista.
ALL carry, if not equal, then substantial weight in this equation.
davarino wrote:If you have the money for a grinder, you can get acceptable results even from one of those abominable blade grinders.
No, you can't. You are the first one I've ever read/seen even attempt to make that claim.
davarino wrote:Myself, I use an old Trösser box grinder and I'm happy.
And there is no reason you shouldn't be. Many people, both here and on CG, use hand grinders.
davarino wrote:If you want a simply made good coffee, a French press is a fine way to do it . . .
True. But then again, this IS a forum dedicated to espresso.
davarino wrote:Buy a bag of beans that you like and that you can get in the future. (Repeatability is always important.) Or buy a can of La Llave.
Repeatability is important, but most of us use a variety of different coffees, and very few of us use stale beans out of a can.

As for the rest, I'll pass.

Cheers,
Jason
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.